CC: First, the personal stuff. Tell us about your passion for soccer.
Matt: I’ve loved soccer ever since I was a kid. It was one of few sports I wasn’t terrible at growing up (although I still never got good enough to play for a decent high school varsity side), and the anticipation and excitement of the gooooals in the 1994 World Cup hooked me for life.
CC: How are you going to deal with the World Cup coinciding with the WSOP?
Matt: Easy, I’m not going out to the WSOP until the World Cup is over. I still plan on playing 12 events, which is plenty for my tastes.
CC: You have a widely read blog that you update regularly. Why do you have the blog?
Matt: Certainly not for profit! I started the blog almost two years ago to create some buzz for my book. These days, I mostly just do it for fun. That probably explains why there are times (like during the World Series of Poker) when I’m updating it every day, and there are other times when I go a week or two without updating at all.
CC: You were forced to add a chapter of your book, The Making of a Poker Player, due to your 3rd place finish in the 2004 WPT Championship at the Bellagio. Looking back, how do you feel about the finished product of your book?
Matt: I think it’s a pretty good book, for what it is. It’s not supposed to revolutionize poker theory, and it’s not supposed to be a book of hard-and-fast rules. It’s supposed to be a fun read that will teach beginning players how to play, and give advanced players something to think about, while at the same time telling an engaging story about one player’s rise through the poker world. I think it succeeds—I wouldn’t have sent it to my publisher if I didn’t.
CC: As a writing poker player or a poker-playing writer, how do you maintain the discipline of writing?
Matt: If you mean, how do I get my ass in the chair often enough to produce anything, I do a very poor job of it. I’m always past deadline for my CardPlayer columns, and it’s been a struggle for me to do any fiction writing at all. I’ve just started having some writer friends I went to grad school with set some deadlines for me, so maybe that will help.
CC: Two years after your best poker result, do you feel you would play the final table any differently today?
Matt: Definitely. I got involved with some junk hands. I opened with 52o on the button (Martin’s big blind) and I limped from the small blind with some trash with Hasan on the big blind. There’s really no point getting involved with total garbage against strong players, and if I had to do it again I would just muck those hands. And of course, I would play my last hand differently, but that’s covered extensively in my book, so I won’t go into the details here.
CC: Since that payday, what has your poker regimen been?
Matt: When I’m home, I play pretty much exclusively online. I try to play cash games every day if I can, although it’s easier to play on certain days than it is on others. I also play the big online tournaments every Sunday that I’m home. In addition, I travel to the major tournaments 8-12 times a year. When I’m at a tournament, I play very few cash games. I try to just focus on the events themselves.
CC: How would you describe your MTT results in the last year?
Matt: Well, I haven’t won another $700,000, but I certainly can’t complain. I’ve made final tables of smaller (non-main) events at the World Series of Poker and World Poker Finals. I finished 22nd in a deep and talented field at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, and I’ve made a bunch of final tables in the big online tournaments (mostly at Paradise Poker).
CC: My impression is that you play a mix of ring games and tourneys, but that you definitely bring a real diligence to tourneys. Realistically, how different is your play in smaller buy-in tourneys than the big buy-in events?
Matt: I try to play my best game in any tournament I enter. But in the smaller buy-in tournaments the stacks aren’t usually too deep, so the pre-flop all-in is a much more common and effective play than it would be in the bigger events. In addition, you have to hold back a little on bluffing in the smaller events, because a lot of the players in those things love to call.
CC: You cashed in two of ten WSOP events last year, making one final table. How did you approach last year’s WSOP in terms of planning, logistics, and event selection?
Matt: Hey, that’s a good memory! I knew I would go crazy if I stayed in Vegas for six or seven weeks doing nothing but playing poker, so my plan all along was to make two separate trips and give myself a break in the middle. I couldn’t go to the first events because they conflicted with a friend’s wedding. So once I had that restriction to work around, setting my travel dates was fairly easy. Once I’m there, I’ll play any event where I feel I have an edge, and which I find comfortable for my bankroll. I only buy-in to a few 5k or higher events per year. The main event at the WSOP is one of those events (although this year I won my seat at Full Tilt Poker).
CC: How do you prepare prior to a WSOP tourney or other big tourney?
Matt: I mostly prepare just by playing my usual number of online tournaments, but I also try to spend a couple of extra hours working on some strategy in the weeks leading up to an event.
CC: Have you seen any significant changes in big buy-in tourneys since you started playing?
Matt: I’ve seen a lot more people enter them, that’s for sure. And more people usually means weaker players, which means less bluffing and more value betting. With the influx of young players, it also tends to mean more aggressive players as well.
CC: How do you approach analyzing and working on your game?
Matt: I don’t have a rigid system for it or anything. Once in a while something will come up during a hand I’ve played, and I’ll decide I need to spend some time thinking about it. So I’ll try to do some analysis of it on my own using software like PokerStove, and I’ll also bounce some ideas off of poker friends who I consider knowledgeable. In doing so, I hope I keep getting better as a player.
CC: Do you feel it is important to have a network of other players for support and counsel?
Matt: Absolutely. A lot of times the best play in poker is counterintuitive, so it’s important to be open to different ideas, and to listen to other good players, especially those whose style is a little different from yours.
CC: To borrow a soccer term, you don’t seem to be in top form headed into the WSOP. What have the last three months been like for you?
Matt: Well, I haven’t played too many big tournaments in the last three months. In April I played the main events at Foxwoods and Bellagio and didn’t cash in either. Since then I’ve been home playing online and have made a slight profit. While two months of only a slight profit is certainly not a great thing for a professional player, it’s not the end of the world, and it comes with the territory.
CC: What are the keys to working through down periods in poker?
Matt: The biggest, and possibly most underrated, key is having the bankroll so that the downswing doesn’t bother you. I guess there’s a bigger adrenaline rush if you’ve got half your bankroll at risk, but then if you lose, you’ve got psychological and financial ruin on your hands. A bad run is not nearly as bad when you know you’ve still got plenty of funds in reserve. That’s why I don’t play the super-high limit games. Even though I have the bankroll to risk losing $50,000 in a night, I don’t have the stomach for it. The other key is to stay objective. It’s easy to drastically alter your game based on bad results, and even easier to pretend the bad results are all just a product of bad luck. A player who can analyze his own game without getting influenced by results is almost certain to succeed at this game. Unfortunately, doing this is not so easy.
CC: What are your plans for this year’s WSOP?
Matt: I’m heading out there on July 12 and staying until the end. I’m playing 12 events, including, of course, the main event.
CC: You seem to be vocal and active in the effort to create an organization to represent professional players. The situation almost seems to hearken back to turn of the century baseball regarding management and players, with poker players putting their money up to participate in televised programming. How do you see the landscape of professional poker today and in the near future?
Matt: I wouldn’t say I’ve been active, although I have tried to do my part so that players can take the first step. It’s going to be very hard for players to organize, because most of the people who play poker tournaments don’t consider themselves professionals, and therefore aren’t too interested in the labor issues of professional players. I do hope, however, that one day we at least get to the point where we stop paying juice (i.e., rake) to play in televised events.
CC: Finally, as painful as it is for me to write this from Atlanta, congrats on the Mets so far this year. Which is more likely, that the Mets win the World Series this year, that you take your first bracelet, or that you will be asked to become the next head coach of the US National Soccer team?
Matt: I appreciate the congrats. Mets fans like myself can’t even believe what’s going on this season. We haven’t had a team this exciting in twenty years, and I LOVED the Piazza/Alfonzo/Leiter teams of 1999 and 2000. Anyway, tradesports.com has the Mets at about 16 percent to win the baseball World Series. I’m playing 12 poker World Series events, and there’s no way I have a one percent chance to win any given one of them, so I’m definitely below 16 percent to win my first bracelet this year. And my chance of being named the next US National Team coach is arbitrarily close to zero percent (although I would certainly accept the job if they offered it to me). So I guess the answer is, Let’s Go Mets!!!